Across Greece to the finish!August 11 in Greece
The highways in Greece are modern and fast - being in the EU had its advantages. Gone were the narrow, winding roads with few guard rails and flocks of sheep and goats, replaced by fast four lane highways that went through the mountains instead of winding up and over them. It makes for a less interesting story, but the series of well lit 1-4km tunnels was a nice change. We made great time to Kalabaka. Switching over to the euro was nice, too: while in Albania few places took credit cards and we didn't want to get stuck with too many Lek after we left. We sort of nickel dimed our way through Girokaster so as not to have too much left over when we got to Greece.
Kalabaka is a nice little town surrounded by mountains. The real draw of this place is a group of monasteries and convents built high atop rock pillars. In a broad sense, the geology looks similar to the southwestern United States, with mountains and sedimentary rock eroded away to form great pillars hundreds of feet high. Centuries ago, monks built monasteries atop these pillars to protect them from the Ottomans. Up until stairs were installed in the 1930s, the only way up were either giant ladders or hoists with nets. When you see them you can't help but wonder how they did it - getting all that brick, rock and wood up there to build these magnificent structures must have been a monumental task.
The largest monestary is called Meterora, and it's definitely worth the excercise to get up there. James Bond fans will recognize Meteora for the cliff climbing, bad guy battling scene near the end of For Your Eyes Only. Once inside there are chapels with interesting but seriously violent artwork, wine making areas, terraces and a room filled with skulls, presumably from the monks that have lived there in the past.
Another great way to see Meteora is from a distance, at sunset. Hundreds of people drove up the mountain, parked alongside the road and climbed out onto the rocks to see it. The color of the sky, surrounding mountains and people climbing to precipitous perches to witness it was quite a sight. Given the tranquility of the scene, the lack of guard rails and, in many places sheer cliffs, everyone was very polite and considerate.
The next day we headed out for our final destination, Thessaloniki, Greece, where the rally would end and a big celebration was in store.
We drive the first 2 hours, Vlora the Volvo loving the smooth highway she was designed for. There were three routes we could have taken and we chose the slightly longer, seaside route. We took a break on the drive for a beach side lunch and a nice little restaurant, with the Agean sea on one side and Mount Olympus on the other.
With all it's beauty and culture, Greece is kind of funny in that they are receipt happy. Dodging taxes used to be the national sport here, but with recent austerity measures imposed by the EU they have employed a small army of roving tax inspectors that can strike at any time. If you got to a cafe and order a second drink, they don't add it to your tab - they give you another receipt for that round. When you go to pay, oftern you wind up with a pile of receipts that they add up at the register. Ask a guy directions on the street he gives you a receipt. Throw crumbs to pigeons, they give you a receipt... Not really, but that's how it felt.
All the teams met at an outdoor restaurant for our last hoorah. It was a huge tapas style meal where we drove the waiters crazy, ordering dish after dish and drink after drink. Many toasts were made and everyone got a medal for being odd enough to decide this trip would make a good vacation.
Aravind was our leader - he founded the Travel Scientists after taking a lot of crazy road trips through Europe and beyond. Look up http://busnumber7.com/ the next time you're bored. On this Balkan run he brought his wife Gaitre and his adorable daughter, Benita, who in her young age is already a seasoned traveler. David Hope, another staff member came along as guide, friend, fixer and occasional drinking buddy.
There were only three teams of paying customers on this run. At first we were a little dismayed at first to learn that they were all American as we'd had so much fun making friends from all over the world on the rickshw challenge in 2016. The great thing is that although we’re all Americans, very few of us were born there. We had Fady, Raja and Christo from Lebanon, Said from Pakistan, David from Scotland, Aravind and family from India, Steve from Canada and Jared, Colton and Pamela from America.
Raja is a doctor and we were lucky to have him along the way. At one point our leader wound up in the hospital for a morning with a bad allergic reaction, and many of of us needed advice on food poisoning along the way and Raja was glad to help.
Fady and Pamela are semi retired and are of on adventure after adventure. They had just completed the Central Asia Rally in their souped up Lexus SUV, complete with snorkel. Last year Fady and his friends bought a boat and sailed the Atlantic.
'The Chillers'- Raja, Said, Christopher and Jared hadn't done a trip quite like this before but sailed through it with relative ease, keeping and open mind and enjoying the culture and insanity of some of the roads. A couple of them were headed directly to Jordan after the Rally. David headed to Georgia (not US state), Aravind and family headed back to their home in Budapest and Colton and I are on a plane to Chicago.
While a trip like this is no walk on the beach, it's not really that hard if you keep an open mind, stifle your fear a bit and relax. Anyone can do if if they want it badly enough, and we think everyone that can, should. It's a big world out there and there are just too many great things to see and experience.
We hoped you’ve enjoyed following us in our journey and encourage everyone to push themselves a bit out of there comfort zone for a new and exciting adventure. Until next time, Steve and Colton signing off.Read more